An American in London

Escueta, Erika

Every week I write about what I did, and as much as I do like reading about myself (just kidding), I feel that it’s also important to write about the jolly ole Brits themselves.

Before spending a semester here, I thought that the American vision of the prim and proper English was silly, comparable to any other huge generalization like the one that claims all Americans are ignorant.

For the most part, I still believe I am right; impeccable manners seem to be antiquated today. Obnoxiously loud hooligans do exist; you can find them (and hear them) on the afternoon of a football match. The sassy and satirical lyrics of Lady Sovereign do not exactly make her out to be a poised lady who daintily sips her tea. But despite these exceptions to the rule, I do understand how the non-British have come up with that perception.

Social manners are different in the United Kingdom than they are in the United States. What we consider part of our social behavior leads the British to deem us uptight and conservative. Likewise, common courtesies in the United Kingdom are completely ignored by others. Throughout my time here, my academic directors do not just hint to the Villanovans that the British are much less politically correct than Americans; they find it necessary to repeat this statement ad nauseam for fear that we might freak out during interaction with the locals. Back in the States, politically incorrect comments are saved for the most private of conversations or just ignored completely. But these manners do not define British life.

Trite and everyday actions are done differently here. My favorite one is the queue, the British term that refers to lining up.

Unless incoherent and drunk, the queue seems to be respected by all British regardless of age or class. Even in the most public of places, the Tube, the queue is less rowdy than subways in other countries (not to point my finger at any country in particular – ahem, Italy).

I also noticed this in the airport. Before my flight to Stockholm took off, people waited by the gate to get on the plane. People from other countries stormed off and herded by the gate, while others approached it and started to queue. The people who queued all spoke with a British accent. I then mentioned this to my peers, who all agreed. A woman standing nearby heard our conversation. She had a giant and proud smile as she nodded approvingly of our opinion on the British know-how of the queue. She then added, “Yes, when I was in Africa not too long ago, I spent four whole hours teaching a group of children how to queue.”

People often think British properness and manners form around the correct way to make tea or the refined upbringing of the upper class. While I think that’s wrong, I promise I won’t snub them.

Pointing them to the closest Tube station will suffice.